Facebook CEO Mark
Zuckerberg.

Reuters

  • The Facebook documents paint a picture of a company
    that is totally ruthless about making money.
  • They show that Facebook was prepared to stamp on
    rivals, cut data deals, make decisions that generate bad press,
    and obsessively track competitors as acquisition targets — all
    in the name of growth.
  • It’s a timely reminder that Facebook is a money-making
    juggernaut, not a philanthropic endeavour.

If you take one thing away from wading through 250 pages of
Facebook documents, it is this: Here is a company that is totally
ruthless about growth.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, of course. You don’t get to 2.3
billion users and revenues of $40 billion by playing nice all the
time. But rarely do we see the inner workings of a company out to
make money laid bare in such detail.

The documents, seized by British parliamentarians and published in a redacted form on
Wednesday
, don’t contain a catastrophic bombshell, but they
do call to mind a barb slung at Facebook earlier this year.

While being questioned by the same group of lawmakers that
published the Facebook papers, chief technology officer Mike
Schroepfer was told by MP Paul Farrelly that Facebook reminds him
of a famous quote about Goldman Sachs
.

Turning to American author and journalist Matt Taibbi’s 2009
attack on
Goldman Sachs in Rolling Stone,
Farrelly read the article’s
opening gambit:

“The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that
it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a
great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,
relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells
like money.”

The Facebook documents offer a patchy and incomplete picture of
internal discussions, sometimes bereft of context. They don’t
contain a smoking gun about Facebook selling the data of its
billions of users. Indeed, Facebook has repeatedly said that it
has “never sold people’s data.”

All the ways Facebook is ruthless

But the papers, which date as far back as 2012, provide evidence
that Facebook cut deals that fell just short of selling data.
Notably, it signed preferential “whitelisting agreements” with
firms including Netflix and Airbnb, giving these firms great
access to data. 

And it wasn’t just exploiting its own data that Facebook
discussed and actioned. It was also ruthless about hoovering up
data, the papers show. Emails show Facebook decided to collect
Android call and SMS data to improve its algorithms and “People
You May Know” feature — despite being aware that it would
generate bad press.

Another feature of the documents is Facebook’s willingness to
stamp on rivals. This manifested itself in two ways: Restricting
their access to Facebook information, and obsessively tracking
competitors to see if they could make potential acquisition
targets.

On the former, Zuckerberg personally approved a
decision to cut off Vine’s access to data
in January 2013 —
just as the Twitter video app, which was shuttered in 2016, was
starting out. Zuckerberg also presided over a
list of rivals
and decided whether they could access its
platform information or not.

On the evening before the documents were published, Facebook
reversed these kinds of restrictions as part of a policy review.
The company said it’s important its “platform
remains as open as possible.”

And the $19 billion deal to buy WhatsApp? Well, that came after
Facebook carefully tracked the app using Onavo, a VPN and data
analytics tool. Onavo’s data showed WhatsApp was outpacing
Facebook Messenger on engagement and message sends, according to
“highly confidential” charts in the papers. So Facebook removed
the competition by bringing it in-house.

But perhaps the most telling example of Facebook’s laser focus on
growth came from Zuckerberg himself when discussing his attitude
toward providing third-party apps with access to its platform in
2012. In an email, he made the stark admission: What’s good for the world isn’t
necessarily what’s good for Facebook
.

It jars somewhat with Facebook’s public credo to make the world
“more open and connected.” It’s a timely reminder that Facebook
is a ruthless money-making juggernaut, not a philanthropic
endeavour.

Credits: Business Insider

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